Melbourne Storm’s domination continued at the start of 2018, with Craig Bellamy’s side breezing their way to the World Club Challenge title and sweeping Leeds Rhinos aside in mid-February.
The Rhinos hadn’t had the same success as Melbourne during the 2017 campaign, but still managed to come good at just the right time to defeat Castleford Tigers in the Grand Final back in October, which set up a clash with Melbourne in Australia ahead of the 2018 campaign. Ultimately, Melbourne proved to be too strong for Leeds in the World Club Challenge, defeating their English counterparts 38-4 in a contest that will not be remembered as a classic.
One player who NRL clubs will have been hoping to catch a glimpse of was Jack Walker, who has enjoyed a fine start to his rugby league career, with the Leeds Rhinos full-back already featuring in two major finals at just 18-years-old.
Walker helped Leeds to the 2017 Super League Grand Final, and impressed for Brian McDermott’s side at Old Trafford, which has earned him the opportunity to start the current campaign as Leeds’ first choice full-back. Ultimately, Walker’s appearance against Melbourne was cut short due to injury, with the teenager failing to get the opportunity to properly test himself against the NRL’s best club side.
Comparisons have already been made between Walker and Billy Slater, the Melbourne full-back he faced up against in the World Club Challenge, with the pair sharing a similar running game, which is combined with a solid defensive game. Melbourne might’ve been one club keen to take a closer look at Walker, particularly with their own full-back coming towards the end of his illustrious career, at 34.
Slater enjoyed a fine 2017, and for the 40 minutes he completed against Leeds in the World Club Challenge, he didn’t look like putting his feet up any time soon and looked hungry to add more silverware to an ever-growing cabinet.
Melbourne will once again be in the hunt for the NRL title in 2018, with Slater and his teammates priced at $6.00 with bet365’s rugby league betting page to defend their title. Whilst Slater doesn’t look like slowing down in the coming year, it is only a matter of time before the Australian hero decides to hang up his boots, which could be the point Melbourne potentially take another look at Walker.
Jack Walker 👀 pic.twitter.com/KLWpJFIpuD
— Men of Rugby League (@RugbyLeagueMen) February 19, 2018
Of course, at 18, Walker has plenty to improve on and he is far from the finished article, but the signs are there that he could be a real talent in the coming years. The youngster has been rewarded with a place in the England Knights squad recently, and despite an injury-hit start to the 2018 campaign, his form towards the end of 2017 was extremely impressive.
Leeds hadn’t been Super League’s most impressive team in 2017, but Walker’s introduction to the side certainly improved their levels, which resulted in the Rhinos picking up an eighth title since 2004 and a chance to take Melbourne on in the World Club Challenge.
Walker’s big evening in Melbourne might’ve been cut short by injury, but he has shown enough already during his short career that he is destined for the very top, and in the coming years, NRL clubs should certainly be keeping a watchful eye on a player that has the ability to make the switch to rugby league’s dominant competition.